My name is Wyatt Champion, I am a 3rd year PhD student in Environmental Engineering - Indoor Air Quality. I grew up on the Gulf Coast of Florida, in a sleepy town called Venice. I received my undergraduate at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando. I started at CU in June of 2013, directly after finishing my MS at UCF. CU Boulder was my top choice because I wanted to research in the context of developing communities. I also wanted to live somewhere less flat. I really enjoy my co-workers, and the opportunities to research abstract concepts while gaining valuable lab and experiment experience.
I am an active member in the American Association for Aerosol Research (AAAR) and present at the conferences annually. I used to be heavily involved in student clubs at my old university, but they do not seem as welcomingly here at CU, and it’s tough to find the time. I do thoroughly enjoy playing music with friends and fellow grad students (included in the friend category). I have lots of hobbies, as I feel they’re important to maintain, including music, cooking, winter sports, mountain biking, and traveling every opportunity I can. I’ve got a little more than a year left, and I look forward to tying up many loose ends.
There are two projects in particular, including one that I’ve worked on since my arrival here, where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I also feel that both are beneficial to the public health of the Navajo Nation, and am excited to share our results. They both deal with indoor air quality in their homes. After completing my degree here, I will either travel for work (or otherwise) for a short-time, and then move to North Carolina to work somewhere around the Research Triangle. My mom will be living in Northern Georgia at that point, my best friends are all on the east coast, and I look forward to enjoying both the mountains and the beach, while continuing to be involved in air quality research and potentially academia. I enjoy the healthy lifestyle of Boulder, and in particular, the bike paths and Alfalfas market. Colorado offers some incredible destinations, like the Grottos near Aspen, and the town of Telluride, and I cherish when I can see new places around the state (or in nearby Utah). I’ve also greatly appreciated being able to learn some exciting new mountain sports while I’ve been out here.
- What made you choose to pursue the area of air quality for your graduate research position?
I began research as an undergraduate student at UCF, with an air quality professor (and my former advisor), Dr. C. David Cooper. My first project was cost-benefit modeling for various carpooling and commute-reduction programs in Orlando (deemed the most car-dependent city in the US). I enjoyed the research process, and making meaningful recommendations to the regional planning authority based on my findings. I continued with Dr. Cooper as a master’s student to develop a chemical-kinetic model for sewage sludge gasification. So that’s how I became interested in air, but now I’m hooked. There’s something about it’s invisible ethereal nature that intrigues me much more than other fields. That, and you have to breathe constantly.
- Your research deals with poorer communities in the Boulder area and the Navajo Nation. How did you become involved with the Navajo Nation and how did you decide to include this particular community in your research? What have you learned about the community of the Navajo Nation?
This was the project that Dr. Montoya put me on as soon as I arrived, and I loved being able to include culture with traditional engineering practices. The objective of the project was to assess heating alternatives for the Navajo, most of whom use wood (and sometimes coal), to heat their homes, and to develop a framework to solve public and environmental health issues in communities with unique cultural and economic preferences. I’ve learned a great deal about the Navajo (though still a modicum of what their culture encompasses), and revere their appreciation of nature and our place in the universe. I just came back from a conference, and one my favorite quotes was from a Navajo community member, stating that “we are mere participants in this life”. This humility is refreshing, when human beings as a whole have trashed our one and only planet.
- Working with the Navajo Nation, you have seen wood and coal stove use being used due to the low cost and availability. How do you think that education on safe cook stoves will benefit these communities? What methods could be used to benefit these communities that will not increase their costs?
A greater understanding of the health effects of wood and ESPECIALLY coal use indoors would be beneficial, if presented clearly and respectfully. Different avenues should be explored (e.g., radio, brochures), and the diverse population groups (e.g., children, elderly) addressed differently. I found it interesting, that at the same conference mentioned above, an outcome from a nutritional wellness program was that Navajo children have a tremendous impact on the actions of their parents and grandparents. In the Navajo Nation, passive solar technologies can cleanly reduce heating loads, and are affordable if implemented during home construction. I think that moving away from coal use indoors would be a tremendous benefit to their community.
- Why did you join Professor Montoya’s research team? What do you find most rewarding about your research? What have you learned that you feel is important to share? Do you work with other graduate students? Any undergrads?
I joined the Montoya group because I wanted to specifically conduct air quality research in the developing community context. I’m not even saying that the Navajo are a developing community, but there do exist health burdens in their community, and the availability of free low-grade coal from large mining companies is not helping the situation. I enjoy the opportunity to expand traditional engineering practices beyond numbers, and to incorporate abstract concepts like perception and culture. I’ve collaborated with Dr. Montoya’s previous graduate students, and at times work closely with Dr. Hannigan’s students. Currently I am mentoring one DLA student, Lea Connors.
- Can you tell us about the REU program? What is your role in this program?
The REU program is a great opportunity for it’s participants, and offers the graduate mentors unique experiences to cultivate a young researcher. It’s fun. Dr. Montoya has been the coordinator for the past 2-3 years, and I’ve helped her launch an updated website and application process.
- Have you had any of your work published? If so, can you discuss one that you were most proud of/took the most away from?
With Dr. Montoya, I co-authored a paper on air quality in Latino homes in a Boulder community, and am nearly (99.9%) complete with the paper from the Navajo heating alternatives project. This Navajo project has been the work I’m most proud of, and I’m hopeful that the methods developed will be applied as integral “pre-planning” components in future public health interventions. There’s too much time and money wasted in underserved communities, and it’s vital to base problem solving on the input of the community itself.
Escobedo, L. E.; Champion, W. M.; Li, N.; Montoya, L. D. Indoor Air Quality in Latino Homes in Boulder, Colorado. Atmos. Environ. 2014, 92, 69–75.
November 3rd 2015